The Broken Blade

Chapter 4

I pulled my gloves free and tossed them to the side before steadying my trembling fingers. Reaching into the snow for the thistle, I carefully dug several inches away from the stem and thorns.

Ages passed while I concentrated on the task at hand. The ice drained the heat from my hands as if the warmth in my bones was life itself. I ignored the pain and concentrated all my energy and focus on not disturbing the delicate fibers.

Each movement was slow and deliberate. I brought my hands together with the precision of dual scalpels and carefully lifted upward. The icy thistles were fragile, the pristine ones more so. One wrong move could render all my efforts worthless.

Inch by inch, I raised my interlocked fingers upward and allowed the excess snow to spill through the gaps.

At long last, I had it.

With the Pristine Snowthistle finally safe within my grasp and the threat of it breaking now gone, I carefully inspected its crystalline form.

You have inspected the Pristine Snowthistle.
This is a rare herb found within the Frostwind Mountains.
Quest Status: Snow-covered Snowthistle — 1 of 20.

I slipped the thistle into my inventory and equipped my gloves. After breathing a quick sigh of relief, I attempt to stand. My feet sank into the disturbed powder beneath the crust, and I fought for purchase on firmer ground.

Icy blue-hued fingers reached upward, emerging from the snow with blinding speed as they clenched around my leather boots.

Caught off guard by the sudden attack, I stumbled and fell face first into the snow. The creature was upon me in an instant. It grabbed at my armor as it pulled itself from the frozen void below. The weight of its cold body pressed against my back, threatening to steal what little warmth I claimed as my own. Its mangled jaw opened and shut with such ferocity that I wondered if its teeth might shatter before it tasted flesh.

Rolling to the side, I managed to free myself from its undead grasp. This mob wasn’t quite as skeletal as the Lost Prospector had been. Frozen flesh still clung to the bones, and its vacant eyes didn’t seem to notice my efforts to put distance between us. The fiend pressed its attack, rolling and clawing at the snow in the spot where I had been.

Seeker found its way to my hand once more as I stood transfixed by the creature’s movements. The cold steel was eager for another taste of combat. I hastened to refresh Mana Surge and Tempest before planting my feet and preparing to strike.

You Inspect the Frozen Adventurer.
Level 6. Hit Points: 265 / 265.
Undead Wanderer
The Frozen Adventurer is affected by Insatiable Hunger.

The mob had fewer hit points than the Lost Prospector, but, with the unsteady ground beneath my feet, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to get cocky.

A dull glow of green light emanated from my blade, and I felt my movement speed increase as the Tempest buff took hold for the second time. Two quick slashes and an Earthblast dropped just over a third of the Frozen Adventurer’s hit points in a single go. The attack also alerted him to my new position.

He lurched toward my leg, digging his teeth and fingernails into the leather of my boot despite my heightened speed.

Another chunk of frozen crust gave way under our combined weight and I tumbled backward once again. I floundered on the powdery ground like a possessed snow angel as another set of arms reached upward and clung to my torso.

Panic blossomed in the pit of my stomach. I was outnumbered. There were now two undead foes and, to make matters worse, we were fighting on impossible terrain.

Failure wasn’t an option.

I kicked with wild abandon at the zombie clinging to my feet, letting loose two Earthblasts from the palm of my free hand while doing my best to avoid the clattering jaws of the new arrival.

My elbow struck the unidentified mob in the chin before I plunged Seeker down into his exposed abdomen. Swollen flesh split open and frozen bile covered the snow with a foul stench. Each pivot and jerk tore at the wound until Seeker slipped free.

Intestines now spilled from the bloated mob like rotten canned cheese. I turned my head and retched, dry heaving as I fought back the urge to vomit. The Frozen Adventurer seized the lapse in my struggle and pulled itself toward my torso.

You cast Earthblast.
Spell Failed.
You have insufficient mana to complete this action.

I glanced at my status bars, now woefully aware of how low my mana had dropped during the struggle. If the tide of battle didn’t shift soon, there could only be one possible outcome.


Regaining its senses, the unidentified zombie beneath me shifted. Its fingers dug into my flesh while the Frozen Adventurer continued its efforts, climbing up my legs with renewed fervor.

Emaciated jaws clacked together with frenzied alacrity, both creatures groaning in unison and announcing their hunger in the frigid air.

Seeker sang within my hand, its lust for battle mounting even as doubt washed over me like a flood. My fingers wrapped tighter around the leather-bound hilt, and a battle cry surged from my chest.

My shout bounced off unseen mountain walls, reverberating as a flood of uncontrolled anger coursed through my veins. At once the world was bathed in the red heat of my fury. Flames licked up the hardened steel of my sword, and I lashed out with everything I had.

New Special Acquired! You have used Searing Blade.
Critical Strike! The Frozen Adventurer takes 92 HP Fire damage.

You now have access to the Energy bar. Gain energy by taking damage and attacking your foes. New specials can be learned as your combat skills improve.

Special attacks can be used when sufficient Energy limits have been met.

Caution: Available Specials are affected by your skill and equipped weapon class.

The Frozen Adventurer’s head dropped into the snow beside my waist, and his body went limp.

You have defeated the Frozen Adventurer.
You have gained 300 Experience Points.
You have received 3 Silver Coins.
You have found 2 Linen Scraps.

Another elbow strike to the chin stunned the unidentified mob beneath me, and I was able to roll to the side before getting to my feet.

A quick inspection revealed all the details I needed to know. Ninety-five hit points were all that stood between me and the end of the gruesome encounter.

With a snarl, the second Frozen Adventurer rose from the snow, spilling the rest of the contents of his belly as he moved. Hunger and death lurked in his vacant stare and he shuffled forward without any visible sign that he could feel even a single ounce of pain.

I darted forward, slashing with Seeker as I got in range. The blows connected, slicing to the bone as they cut through his armor and frozen flesh. With a final glance at my mana bar, I flashed the undead beast a victorious smirk.

The fight was over.

Mana Surge had given me enough points of mana to finish the job.

You cast Earthblast.
Critical Strike! The Frozen Adventurer takes 87 HP Earth damage.

You have defeated the Frozen Adventurer.
You have gained 300 Experience Points.
You have received 1 Silver Coin.
You have found 5 Linen Scraps.

Not daring to move, lest I awaken more of the fiends from their icy graves beneath the snow, I stood in place, staring at the remains of the three undead attackers. My lungs were working overtime and my heart thudded in my chest. Seeker quivered in my hand. The surge of adrenaline had vanished. Cold reality came flooding back, and I felt the overwhelming deluge of emotions that left me both shaken and unnerved.

I had to move.

After all my careful efforts to recover the Pristine Snowthistle, it still took several long minutes to figure out how to get myself back onto sturdy footing. The snowpack, now broken by the unexpected dance of combat, pulled my boots downward like quicksand.

No matter how hard I tried to make it to firmer ground, each move only seemed to make matters worse. There was no telling if more corpses were hidden beneath the snow, just waiting for a chance to reanimate and seek out the warmth of the living. I didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out.

With no remaining options, and feeling the weight of desperation, I stabbed my blade deep into the trunk of the nearby tree. Then I gave the hilt a few measured pulls before wresting my body forward inch by inch. I had to repeat the process several times, each time plunging my blade higher up the trunk before my weight stopped cracking the outer layer of frozen snow.

With each attempt, tiny slivers of ice and bits of crusty snow found their way beneath the woolen interior of my gloves and down the insides of my boots. Sweat began to form on my brow from the exertion of getting to firmer footing, only for the moisture to freeze seconds later by the surrounding chill.

If carelessly dropping the Pristine Snowthistle had been my first, this was my second lesson of the day.

If I wanted to survive this journey, I knew would have to be a lot more careful about the way I expended energy from here on out. It wasn’t just a matter of leaving myself vulnerable to attack. My armor was wet and cold. I was sweating, and that sweat would soon turn to ice.

Freezing to death might not be as quick as succumbing to the attacks of frozen zombies, but that only meant my suffering would be prolonged. What came next was anyone’s guess. Perhaps, when I was too weak to fight back, I might find myself face to face with whatever had left those tracks.

Only then would I die. Only then would I find myself back at Fort Morrow.

Margaret’s warning sounded in my head once more.

Only then… would I learn… the cost of death.